Do you think you might have burnout?
Feeling overwhelmed, constantly stressed about work, and often feel like quitting? Waking up in the middle of the night full of dread and worry about work? Is it also taking its toll on your physical energy, weight, health and wellbeing?
You might have burnout.
And it’s very common for lawyers and other high-achieving women. It seems the smarter and more capable we are, the more we agree to take on, and the harder we try to keep it all together.
Burnout tends to sneak up on us when we think we don’t have time for self-care
You’re good at your job. So good, that very little can stop you from being a hard-working, high-performing professional. You’ve worked hard to get this far.
But, sometimes you put your self-care on the back burner. Maybe it is during THAT time of the month. Maybe it is when your in-laws come into town. Maybe it is when suddenly you are “too busy” to work out. Maybe you have felt out of whack for a while.
For some of us, it’s a weight issue. For others, it’s fatigue. For others, it’s allergies. Or something else. For me, it was PMS, a story I’ll tell below.
(To be on the safe side, it is wise to get a physical checkup and seek out professional mental health advice. And if your work situation seems out of line, consult with an employment lawyer. There are resources linked at the bottom of the page.)
Whatever it is, taking care of your professional responsibilities is more difficult when you are not feeling physically up to par, or not looking your best.
Barring some medically significant condition or legally actionable situation, you may fall into the camp of professional women who are not functioning optimally at work (and by extension, also in life) but seemingly have no clear answer about how to feel better and recover from burnout.
The culture of most professions (especially law…) is wholly unsupportive of burned-out women
And unfortunately, many women are often told that they just need to be tougher, or that this amount of stress is normal.
That’s exactly what they said to me in the early days of my law career. Let me tell you my story.
How I got burned out
One day in early March, 2006, I was sitting in an office with my supervisor and boss and one other person. They were grilling me about performance concerns. At this time, I was a brand new attorney, admitted less than a year. And, I had severe PMS, the kind that, for about ten days every month, made me dizzy, sleepy, fatigued, anxious, easily overwhelmed, depressed, experience physically painful food cravings that make it difficult to get through an hour of court, and suffer embarrassing acne scabs on my face that might break open and start bleeding if I accidentally touch my face wrong.
I never thought I would be in that situation. It was doubly challenging to do this as a harshly self-critical perfectionist. It was too much.
In my defense to the accusations that I was performing poorly on purpose or not caring about the quality of my work, I got my nurse practitioner on the speakerphone to try to explain “hormone imbalance” to the higher ups. The supervisor and boss seemed to think this was quackery, and mocked me.
I left that job, determined to fix this problem that threatened my career, and not be one of “those people” with some poorly explained health problem that caused her job performance to suffer. I couldn’t shake a deep shame, shame that a physical problem got the best of me. I didn’t want to be one of “those” women walking around giving some lame-ass excuse.
To make matters worse, that same week my then-boyfriend dumped me, in summary, because he was tired of me being tired, whiny, and leaning too much on him for emotional support. I didn’t yet understand the importance of tapping into my feminine energy to look out for my own needs better.
What led up to this period of burnout, burnout so bad that it ended a relationship and a job?
The road to hell was certainly paved with good intentions. I wanted to shine in that job — so I worried constantly about how to do it, was clueless about how to manage the energetic power dynamics on around me that were a setup for failure if one didn’t know what I know now, and I gradually stopped eating right, despite still earnestly trying to drag myself through physical activity.
The poor mind management, lack of understanding about energetics and off-the-rails nutrition exacerbated an existing health issue, and PMS turned into burnout, which turned into full-blown adrenal fatigue.
In summary, I wound up with three problems — body, mind, and spirit — and it took a multifaceted approach to recover from my burnout.
The great gift of experiencing burnout was that it forced me to learn how to take exquisite care of myself despite being a busy lawyer. Ten years later, after a year of hustling too hard as a solo lawyer and winding up with a staggering tax bill, I recognized the signs of burnout early, and was able to keep my physical health strong and grow even more on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels through the experience. I haven’t had burnout for years, because now I recognize the signs of overwork and under-self-caring so much earlier.
Recovering from burnout begins with your thoughts and feelings.
While these the physical issues that flare up when you’re under stress may have a genetic aspect or run in your family, and have some clear nutritional cause according to tests, it is our thoughts, feelings, and decisions that make all the difference in our ultimate experience of burnout and burnout recovery.
The body and mind are intricately connected. Much of what people term “burnout” starts in our thinking, when we least suspect it.
It starts very innocently, when we have some seemingly innocuous thought like “I am too busy.” And, if we let that sneak by without challenge, such thoughts produce feelings of overwhelm, resentment, or probably some other unresourceful emotion.
And, it isn’t like your responsibilities are going to let off. It isn’t like you can just up and quit, right?
This kind of thinking may feel SO true. But the key is realizing that it’s not helping you. And the way to really let this realization sink in is to understand how the slippery slope into burnout works.
Often what precedes the waking up in the middle of the night and the thoughts of quitting are some thoughts and feelings that are normal to have, but which left unchecked, can spiral into burnout.
Emotions are caused by our thoughts. And unresourceful or indulgent emotions are the ones that cause us to engage in behaviors that keep us from getting our work done on time, cause us to overwork and underperform, or do some other behavior to avoid work altogether.
Overwhelm, frustration, jealousy, self-pity — these are all indications that whatever we are thinking about our situation has got us in a no-win situation where the inner resources to improve our circumstances may be temporarily unavailable.
Unexamined thoughts that put us into “fight, flight or freeze” are what lead us into burnout.
Modern life has a number of “threats” that our primitive brain registers as actually life-or-limb threatening, when in reality they aren’t: emails from that person you can’t stand, fluctuations in the stock market, future events that haven’t yet occurred, or a cross word from a supervisor.
When we then heap on a bunch of unhelpful thoughts about these occurrences — even if the thought is more or less true — we are continuously pushing our own internal stress buttons. We are impacting our nervous system and our hormones.
I’m not at all saying that this is your “fault.” Nor am I saying don’t feel how you feel. Quite the contrary: Awareness is a powerful shift in itself. This is great news: a lot of what causes burnout is actually within our own control.
How to recover from burnout: body, mind and spirit.
Recovering from burnout typically entails a three-part approach: taking care of the body, challenging the false assumptions of the mind, and one or two energetic approaches, especially when the thoughts you have about your situation seem insurmountably true.
And you can do it faster with the help of a mentor. Contact me to see what can be done to get you back on track.